One business shares a gratitude index

In what has to be the most common topic in this blog for 2016, I offer another illustration of how data collection can be simply managed, yet offer meaningful data for a wide variety of audiences.
The elegant metrics from a small value-added business in Charlottesville VA are below. It seems important to note that Stacy was my comrade for the original creation of the FMC Farmers Market Metrics work (and FMC’s founding executive director before our current excellent Jen Cheek) , and did a incredible consulting  job in 2016 assisting FMC with metric refinement, data collection research and devising the workbooks that are at the core of the FMM program. Those tasks are in addition to what the output shows in the metrics below, her devotion to fitness as a student and a leader and (along with her ever cheerful husband Joe) raising their energetic son.

2016 was good phyte foods’ first full calendar year of operation, after our first humble sale at Charlottesville City Market in May 2015. Since January this year, the business has made from scratch and sold 57,024 crackers, 1,003 bars, 157 pounds of granola, 978 pumpkin muffins, 533 kale cookies, and a motley assortment of odd-looking experimental snacks. In so doing, we have bought sustainably grown (and often certified organic) vegetables and herbs from at least twelve farms² in Central Virginia. We are grateful not only to our loyal and patient customers at City Market, but to our enduring local partners at The Juice Laundry, Random Row Brewing, Blue Ridge Country Store, and ACAC Downtown. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It is a humbling honor to be part of this evolving local food economy.

And for those who think cottage industry producers only care about their own cash flow:

In the coming year, we want to expand our reach to more retail partners, reinvest in new equipment, train some cracker apprentices, experiment with early summer cracker flavors, and give back to community organizations that are helping kids eat more vegetables. I have recently been appointed to the Advisory Council of the Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville, which, among other things, teaches children of limited economic means how to grow, use, and appreciate fresh organic vegetables.

Go Stacy Miller; Keep the goodphyte going.

Source: getting specific: gratitude counts in our 2016 index

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Coming Full Circle: Reflections on Being a New Farmers Market Vendor from FMC’s Former Executive Director | Farmers Market Coalition

Stacy always chooses her words carefully, works deliberately and thinks about how her actions affect others, sometimes to a maddening degree for someone like me who does not employ those restraints most of the time. What is so clear from her post (that we all demanded that she write for the newsletter!) is that that is a good personality type to be a market vendor and even more so, to describe what it’s like to become one.
Lovely thoughts about work here that Wendell Berry himself would read and nod in appreciation:

No one complains because they know they are blessed with this utmost human privilege– to work way too many hours and earn way too little in the pursuit of what fulfills you, most of us lucky enough to be well fed, if nothing else. These are the colleagues and coworkers whose shared goods and inspiration will make or break any vendor’s market experience.

and I think this might be useful for her market to use as a lead in to the vendor application?

Nervous and bleary-eyed from two consecutive late nights baking, labeling, and scrambling to generate last minute signage, I found a parking space, chased down someone on market staff, and began unloading my boxes. I forgot to write down the space number I had been assigned: E42? F24? Something like that. I have no tent, and share one with another small start-up vendor. Holy expletive. I am actually doing this.

I wish very good luck to my pal in this endeavor and encourage every market manager to encourage one of these posts from a new vendor for their newsletter.

Source: Coming Full Circle: Reflections on Being a New Farmers Market Vendor from FMC’s Former Executive Director | Farmers Market Coalition

My new role

Since many people have written to me with congratulations on accepting a staff job with FMC (see below), while others emailed with surprise because they thought I was already on staff, I  thought I’d post something about the news, but really more about my feelings about FMC, as I have had a unique vantage point to observe its evolution.

But first the news here: after many years in an outside support role with FMC, I arrived at the conclusion that the opportunity to work daily on the Farmers Market Metrics and other resource development for markets could be best done as an employee when offered that opportunity by Jen Cheek, our able Executive Director.

I also felt that the organization was at a key moment in its growth and being included in that work was right for my skills to assist and to learn. And since I am going to keep my consulting for markets going, it becomes even simpler for me to share news and ideas and looming issues heard from markets with my FMC team and then even easier to dream up or seek solutions.

What made the personal decision become an employee relatively easy was that I know first hand how thoughtfully and carefully FMC has been built by its two Executive Directors, first Stacy Miller and then Jen, supported and led by its talented and committed volunteer board. To illustrate how committed, I remember how the early versions of the board (made up of market leaders) were so vigilant about designing it in such a way to ensure its continued stability and relevancy for serving the independent market community that they even jettisoned a few early passes at it until it seemed right.

Back in the first days of being the first staff hired, Stacy asked a lot of questions (well she still does that), and I observed her as she gladly checked in with anyone and everyone who was open to talking or working with FMC on farmers market advocacy. That sort of openness to building relationships is crucial for an organization, especially one that hopes to represent a wide range of members. Out of those informal one-on-one conversations and early collaborations, she (later with membership and outreach coordinator Liz Comiskey) slowly built a respected young organization, one with some discipline and good relationships.

(I wonder how many remember those early days when the necessity of having a national organization for markets was not shared by everyone and how, when many of us would discuss the idea with outside stakeholders, we would often be politely rebuffed. How (in some circles) markets were often seen as an anachronism or at least as having found their highest level already and therefore any talk of ongoing support to expand them was largely met with indifference. That tide was turned by the valiant push to expand EBT and access to underserved populations and by constantly stretching the reach of markets as fulcrums of food systems and civic engagement. That work was done by the markets themselves with tiny funds and with a whole bunch of sharing between those early leaders and continues to this day.)

One of Stacy’s regular activities was working closely with the state and network leaders who were building resources, analyzing trends and expanding pilots within markets. It was in that part of her work that I got to know her as we both crisscrossed the US appearing at conferences or working in groups like the Wallace Center Farmers Market Working Group or supporting efforts like Projects For Public Spaces’ Farmers Market Mini-Grant program. Back then, my job at Market Umbrella was to pilot the imaginative set of regional ideas our founder had written into grants and to strategize with him and our advisors how to build the field of markets through replicating those ideas or extracting lessons or analysis.  And after I became a consultant, she stayed in touch, hired me and  was one of the few people back then who agreed that the Farmers Market Metrics work was necessary, letting me talk incessantly about it (well I still do that), relentlessly questioning me when needed.

When she told me of her decision to step down in preparation for the birth of her son, I was a bit deflated, knowing how hard it would be to maintain the supportive energy that FMC was beginning to take advantage of to grow its funded activities. Lucky for us, the right person found FMC next and kept the momentum going, and expanding its reach and depth rather quickly. Whether the timing was just right or Jen visualized it all, she did a speedy job adding the right components while listening to those with opinions or ideas about markets and now, with opinions about FMC itself. And that is a crucial point to make: each ED had a very different primary challenge to overcome and Jen’s was to exponentially grow the income and programs at the same pace as the number of members and partners, while managing the expectations of an emerging organization with its own personality and inertia. All of which is harder to do than it may seem. Far too often, organizations have too many programs at once and members can feel left out, or not enough money for non-project staff and therefore calls and issues are not handled in real time. Having served more than three decades in non-profits, I have seen more entities fail than succeed at being true membership organizations, not guarding against duplicating what is better done by the members or partners, or losing sight as of the issues and remaining barriers that must be addressed at the grassroots level.

Well long story short (although, as my friend Roger would say, it’s too late for that), FMC has ably managed its core purpose without failing its membership on any critical tasks and has important long-term programs in place to support partners and ideas big and small, all the while tirelessly advocating from the seat next to, not in front of markets. Jen also grasped the potential of the Farmers Market Metrics and asked clear questions of Stacy and I (and our early measurement advisors like Paul Freedman of University of Virginia and Alfonso Morales at University of Wisconsin-Madison) and led us in thinking through our plan and kept fundraising to get the ball truly rolling.

Add to that, she had a plan and the skills for staffing with first-rate minds and caring individuals in order to manage its work while asking everyone to remain available for a call or email from a market in need of a reality check or a solution. She also had the maturity and tact to keep Stacy on to assist with analysis and resource writing and Stacy reciprocated with the same and so FMC has had the benefit of her continued presence in crucial ways.

So, when I tell you that I am grateful and honored to be on staff at FMC, I think you can see why. Market Umbrella under Richard McCarthy’s leadership was a tough act to follow and I think somewhere in my mind, I always suspected that FMC might welcome me sooner or later for a spell. Of course, I will remain a roving and critical eye in the market field, offering comfort and strategy to any market or food system that needs my help, but for now, expect that the FMC resource and capacity building work that I gladly get to do these days for (at least) half of my time will continue without interruption for the foreseeable future.

And welcome to my fellow FMC newbie, Honesta.



FMC’s Team is Enjoying Spring Growth!

FMC’s long time consultant, Darlene Wolnik, is now officially an FMC staffer. As Senior Research Associate, Darlene is busily working on the FMC Farmers Market Metrics Project, assisting the Vermont Law School in creating a legal toolkit forfarmers markets, and she is also maintaining her private consulting practice. You can read the full bio for Darlene here.

New to FMC with strong roots in agriculture and nonprofits, Honesta Romberger is our new Communications Associate. Prior to joining the FMC team, Honesta was a member of consulting staff at The Food Trust, a non-profit located in Philadelphia, PA, where she provided expertise and capacity for multiple projects surrounding healthy food access to schools and homeless shelters. Read more about Honesta.

Welcome to FMC!

Can the lexicon of local make a global impact? Book review by Stacy Miller

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You may want to check out the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development’s (JAFSCD) “Book Nook”, which contains in-depth reviews of current books on food systems. The link at the end of this post directs you to a review of a new book on the language of sustainability: Local: The New Face of Food and Farming in America, by Douglas Gayeton. The review is by Stacy Miller, who many readers will know as the Farmers Market Coalition’s founding Executive Director. Stacy is now working as an independent consultant and as a FMC Program Advisor and also spends some of her time valiantly untangling my words by serving as an editor or by offering some spot analysis for many of the reports that I am doing for markets and their advocates.

Finding the appropriate bright and brave words to describe the energetic nature of a farmers market as well as the larger food system work happening is something we both think about in this work that we do and she probably had to think about daily as the FMC director. I can remember a day in her kitchen when we wrote down and discussed lots of words to describe what became the skeleton of the Farmers Market Metrics project at FMC and how we had to leave it unfinished when I left town a day later, promising to return to it. We did, and still do good-naturedly debate (alongside our colleagues at FMC and University of Wisconsin) for and against the use of different words and definitions within that metrics work.
So, to expand her thinking to this lovely book on the entire realm of sustainability language in our farming and food world seems mighty appropriate. Here are a few of my favorite passages from her review, linked below:

“The idea that language is fundamental to social movements is nothing new. The power to bestow names on objects, people, places, and philosophies is undervalued, so we hardly notice when it gets abused. Noam Chomsky famously observed that
destructive paradigms thrive because they impose on people “the feeling that they really are incompetent to deal with complex and important issues: they’d better leave it to the captain” (Chomsky,1987, p. 42).”

“I give a lot of credit to a former film director who can find a compelling poster child for, and condense the complexities of, expansive terms like economies of community (see Figure 1), soil food web, GMO, or traceability.”

“The hypothesis behind the Lexicon of​ ​ Sustainability is compelling… We tune​ ​out vocabulary we don’t understand, avoid dialogue ​ ​or questions that make us feel ill-informed or​ ​hopeless, and thereby enable a cycle of peripheral ​ ​awareness that looks dangerously like apathy. And​ ​the corporate food monopolies take advantage of ​ ​this whenever they can — on packaging, in advertising,​ ​and in lobbying efforts designed to “protect ​ ​us” from too much information.”

I will pass this review to many of my colleagues and will also get this book based on her review and pass that around too. What better can be said?